2016 Volkswagen Beetle Convertible R-Line SELPosted on July 13th, 2016
Open-air fun for four
By Nina Russin
Volkswagen is known as the most affordable of German performance brands. The R-Line version of its Beetle convertible brings this driver-focused approach to one of America’s favorite drop-tops.
The third-generation Beetle maintains the classic lines of the original car but with a more aerodynamic focus. The convertible’s folding soft top is actually lower when in place than the roofline of the hardtop car. A single button near the rearview mirror retracts the top and rolls down the windows in less than ten seconds and can operate at up to 30 miles-per-hour.
The R-Line SEL model tested gets the larger of two available engines: a two-liter turbocharged four-cylinder block rated at 210 horsepower, mated to a six-speed direct shift automatic transmission.
Standard convenience features include keyless entry and start, Fender premium audio system, climate control, tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, leather seating, satellite radio and Bluetooth interface. Volkswagen has expanded its Car-Net infotainment system options, enabling owners to access Android Auto or Apple CarPlay as well as a variety of smartphone apps though the car’s head unit.
Base sticker for the upscale SEL is $36,050: final MSRP including destination is $36,870.
Test drive in Phoenix, Arizona
Mid-July isn’t the ideal time to have a convertible in southern Arizona since triple-digit daytime highs make open-air driving uncomfortable. But I was determined to enjoy some time in the Beetle with the top down, even if it meant rising earlier in the morning.
The top deploys with ease as advertised. Because it rests on top of the boot rather than retracting into the trunk, owners enjoy a decent amount of storage space. A new split folding rear seat adds some additional storage inside the car.
The two-liter engine delivers the peppy performance Volkswagen is known for, with robust acceleration off the line and in the 20-to-50 mile-per-hour range drivers use merging into high-speed traffic.
The DSG transmission uses friction couplings to deliver crisp shifts closer in character to a manual gearbox.
Visibility around the perimeter is remarkably good with the top in place. The Beetle has a glass rear window that won’t yellow and fog over time as plastic versions do. The window is large enough to offer decent rear visibility. Lack of B-pillars makes over-the-shoulder visibility a non-issue. Standard blind spot monitoring illuminates LED signals in the side mirrors when vehicles in adjacent lanes pass through the driver’s blind spots. The rearview camera projects a wide angle view to the back on the center stack screen when the driver shifts into reverse, making it easier to monitor cross traffic in crowded parking lots.
Volkswagen engineers improved torsional rigidity throughout the body: thickening A pillars and a front cross-member. As a result, there’s none of the dreaded cowl shake that is the bane of some open-air cars.
Engineers did a good job tuning the electric power steering system. There’s a slight hesitation in on-center response, but drivers should enjoy the system’s pleasantly heavy feel at speed.
A four-wheel independent suspension consists of struts up front and a multi-link setup in back, providing a firm but comfortable ride over a variety of road surfaces. During the test drive I drove through a section of the Gila River Indian Community south of town where roads in remote areas are rather rough. The suspension did a good job of absorbing bumps in the road.
Nineteen-inch wheels on the upscale model are an upgrade from 17-inch rims on the base car, giving it a more aggressive footprint. Four-wheel discs deliver firm, linear braking.
Phoenix summers are the ironclad test for air conditioning systems. This turned out to be the Beetle’s single Achilles heel. It took quite a bit of time for the car interior to cool down in mid-day temperatures of 110 degrees.
The Beetle convertible holds four adult passengers. Second-row legroom is limited, but works fine for trips around town. A flat-bottom steering wheel is a nod to the brand’s performance focus.
R-line models get a three-gauge cluster at the top of the center stack displaying oil temperature, turbo boost and chronometer. The center stack screen and both gauge clusters are easy to read in a variety of lighting conditions.
While I’m normally a fan of manual gearboxes I was happy to have the automatic transmission in the summer heat. The metal shift knob gets boiling hot, making it necessary to use an oven mitt to shift out of park when the car has been sitting in the sun.
Music aficionados should enjoy Fender’s premium audio system. Combined with standard satellite radio, drivers can rock the tunes in the most remote locations.
Trunk space is quite good for a convertible, with enough room for luggage or the weekly groceries. Adding in the folding second-row seats gives the Beetle convertible versatility most competitors lack.
The Volkswagen Beetle convertible comes with front and side airbags, antilock brakes, electronic stability control, tire pressure monitoring and an intelligent crash response system that cuts off the fuel and automatically unlocks the doors in the event of a serious collision.
The SEL grade tested adds bi-xenon headlamps with daytime running lamps, blind spot monitoring and a rearview camera. VW Car-Net includes emergency notification, remote access and vehicle health reports.
The peppy R-Line Beetle convertible is on display at Volkswagen dealerships nationwide.
Like: German performance in an affordable, stylish convertible with enhanced infotainment features.
Dislike: Air conditioner takes a long time to cool the interior down.
Model: Beetle R-Line Convertible SEL
Base price: $36,050
As tested: $36,870
Horsepower: 210 Hp @ 5300 rpm
Torque: 207 lbs.-ft. @ 1700 rpm
Antilock brakes: Standard
Side curtain airbags: N/A
First aid kit: N/A
Bicycle friendly: No
Fuel economy: 23/31 mpg2016, Luxury 2016, auto review, Beetle, Convertible, performance, pricing, standard safety, Volkswagen